Three Rules for Collecting

I’ve always been a natural collector. If I find something I like, a part of my brain immediately lights up and says “maybe you should get another one!”. It’s just natural for me to be curious about objects and enjoy having them around me. To temper my instincts, I have made a concerted effort not to let my collections get too big, or too expensive. I frequently move things to better display everything, and try to know when it is time to say goodbye. If you are a collector, I offer three simple rules I’ve followed in my decades of collecting. With these rules I’ve been able to enjoy my collections and achieve balance in my space.

A small collection of vintage items, grouped by colour.

#1 – Set a Size Limit, then Follow the “One In, One Out” Rule: When you first get excited about something it can be easy to keep acquiring, especially if that item hits your sweet spot in terms of availability and price. For me recently, that item has been vintage McCoy planters. These beauties are found all over North America, but they’re still rare enough that they’re fun to spot. The small ones sell for around $20. They are lovely to me, and I use some of them to actually grow plants, so I can convince myself they’re even useful. With so many reasons to love them, what’s the harm in buying just one more?

The harm, simply, is that eventually I have too many. Hitting a wall with collection size is expected. Collections tend to fill the available space, but there are warning signs when it’s time to stop – You won’t appreciate the ones you have as you try to find a place for another new addition. You will stop being able to display them. You will hate having to dust them. You may look at them and worry about what else you could have done with the money. At this point, you can either sell the whole collection (dramatic but effective!) or you can decide how many is enough, and keep your collection at that number.

Once you’re at your limit, I’m a fan of the “one in, one out” rule because instead of a dead end to your collecting, you will now enter a period of refinement. For instance, now instead of buying three $20 McCoy planters, I will wait to buy a much nicer one for $60. Then I get rid of one of my lesser pieces by selling it so the collection takes up the same amount of space. I’m learning as I go, and investing in pieces that are special. This evolution is how great collections are made.

Most of my McCoy planters are displayed on this antique moveable staircase. The staircase is from a nunnery in Quebec.

#2 – Display Your Collections: Want a really simple way to tell if you enjoy a collection? Look around and see if the collection is on display or shoved away in a box somewhere. There are exceptions (temporary storage issues etc), but in general, if you should have a collection you will have it displayed. You will make space. It will make you happy to see it, because it will reflect an interest or affection you currently hold.

I love to display my collections, no matter how small. I have about a dozen Tiki mugs. One day, the dream is to have a full tiki bar, but for now it’s just a little collection I keep on the book shelf that makes me smile. Learning how to attractively display your collections will make your home more interesting and personal. The golden rule of display is “like with like”. Even three similar items look better displayed together. Aim for a triangle shape in your display (larger items in the back, smaller in front). Group your little collections and put them out where you can see them. Give them some love. Don’t be embarrassed or think that something has to be expensive or “impressive” to be out. Your home is your sanctuary, and if something makes you happy put it where you can see it.

My little selection of new and vintage Tiki mugs (hello Darth Vader!)

#3 – Beware of Nostalgia and Learn When to Let Go: You’re a growing person, so don’t expect all your collections to last. Beware of nostalgia that might make you hold onto an item you no longer actually enjoy. Ask yourself if you’re just keeping something because you’ve always kept it. Or if you have good memories of collecting something (I bought this with dear old dad!) and so parting with the item feels cruel. If this is the case my advice is to shrink the collection to your absolute favourite or most meaningful pieces. I recently had to do this with china inherited from my grandmothers. I didn’t want to keep full sets of dishes, but I did carefully go through the sets to keep a small sample. Then I mounted an assortment of plates on my kitchen wall. I see these plates every day and they mean something to me. This small display is a much better use of these items than having boxes of dishes forgotten in the basement.

Once a collection is no longer making you happy, it’s okay to get rid of it. Honest. You don’t have to feel like you wasted money or time or space. It served its purpose. My mother spent years collecting a full 100 antique biscuit barrels (yes, she kept count). She loved them, but then one day she decided enough was enough. She sold all but a few of her best ones. She moved on to collecting birds for her kitchen. Learn to embrace change and say goodbye to your items when it’s time to let them go.

Sometimes collections are small and silly, like this group of china dog figurines. I displayed them with a photo of Kurt Vonnegut because he liked dogs.

It takes effort to enforce these rules, but collecting is still a great source of joy for me. It’s just how I’m wired. There is a specific excitement in a new find, and the pride of displaying that makes my space comforting to me. By thinking critically, and only keeping what I want to display, I have things I love and room to breathe. Life keeps going, change is inevitable, and the good collector knows how to go with the flow. Happy collecting!

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The Ups and Downs of Buying Antiques

I am a big believer in everyone buying antiques and vintage, but sometimes I forget how intimidating it can be to make a purchase when you’re out of your comfort zone. I have my background growing up in the business, but that doesn’t mean I’m immune to uncertainty and faults in my own judgement. It can be scary so I thought it might help other new collectors if I shared a recent buying story. It turned out great in the end, but I went a little wacky before I found my happy place.

A few weeks ago Anson (my husband) and I went to the Sunday Antique Market in Toronto. It’s a large market with dealers set up inside and out. The packed area offers a great assortment of decorative and housewares items, jewelery, collectibles, art and small antique furniture. Anson and I had each happily bought small items and we were getting ready to leave when I spied a round bamboo shelf near the doors. My first reaction was to smile because the shelf looked to me like pure vintage Tiki. Round with asymmetrical platforms, sitting around 3 feet tall and 3 feet wide, it felt like something out of the 1960s or 70s. I could see it gracing a rec room along with a couch in a tropical print and a hifi stereo. This is what happens when you buy old stuff, by the way, your imagination takes over. Removed from a defined setting, antiques become curiosities in themselves, and you fill in the blanks (right or wrong) of the item’s story.

Anyway, to my surprise Anson was not opposed to checking out the shelf in more detail. So we went up and took a closer look. The price was $125. Hmm. Not an easy bit of cash to drop on something I wasn’t sure about. A man approached us and began to tell us about the piece. He told us the shelf was not from the mid 20th century, but much earlier. He though it was Victorian (late 1800s) and he made reference to the burnt finish as proof. He said the shelf was all notched construction without the use of nails. Finally, he lowered the price to $110. Now, all of a sudden, it was exciting to think we could own this marvelous piece. Victorian bamboo! Isn’t that really collectible? The rush of emotion was saying “I must have this” and it felt good. Looking at Anson, I could see he felt the same way. We paid the man, shook his hand, and carried the shelf to our car.

In the ten minutes it took to carry the shelf to the car I experienced my first taste of bitter suspicion. The shelf was solid, yes, but some of the bamboo was cracked. Why hadn’t I seen that? There were not nails but large screws helping hold the bottom construction together. And what about the style? I knew this looked a lot more 1960s than Victorian. Or did I know that? My mood crashed as I tried to reconcile what I was now suspecting with what I had believed only moments earlier. Was it even old? I did a Google search on my phone and found a warning about fake and newly made bamboo being sold as Victorian.

Had I been bamboozled?!

Even thinking of that pun could not lift my spirits! The money wasn’t even the point – my pride was hurt. I was certain the man who sold me the shelf thought he was telling us the truth. But was it the truth? The whole ride home I was voicing my concerns and bouncing between opinions. I decided the shelf was not new – it was too well made and the finish looked old. But questions remained. After much comforting Anson finally asked “do you still like it?”. Yes, I answered. “Then it’s worth it!” he said. Anson had a clarity I lacked. Yes, I did like it. Yes, I liked it even if it wasn’t Victorian. Yes. Okay.

When I got home I took a few photos and phoned my parents for some quick feedback. They liked the shelf although it was not really to their taste. They thought it probably wasn’t Victorian but maybe from the 1940s to coincide with that time’s heightened interest in “Oriental” design. I confirmed it was solid and not missing any pieces that I could see. Finally we agreed it was just my style and really, what can you buy nowadays with $100? They thought it was a good buy, Anson thought it was a good buy, and now I did too.

I put the shelf on an antique cupboard in our dining room and put some of my McCoy pottery on it. I had bought the piece specifically to display the pottery and I was happy to see it suited my vintage planters nicely. So in the space of a few hours the saga of the bamboo shelf had finally come to an end. In that time I had gone from the rush of love at first sight, to the lows of suspicion and fear, and then back up to contentment. Kind of a crazy amount of emotion for a shopping trip, but also probably normal for a less experienced buyer like me. I still don’t know for sure when the shelf was made, but that’s sometimes the reality of buying antiques. I know it’s well made, and most importantly I know I like it. Every buyer has to take a leap of faith sometimes (no one – buyer or seller – can be an expert on everything), but if you buy what you love you will not regret it.

Now to see what all the fuss was about! Here’s the shelf:

bamboo1

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Why I buy Antiques – Antiques are Green

Last time I wrote about the financial benefits of buying antiques, and today I would like to expand my argument with the positive environmental impact of buying old (or reclaimed) items. There has actually been quite a bit of discussion on this topic already, and for good reason. Being “green” or eco-friendly, is really cool right now. There are lovely shops opening in many major cities that specialize in organic, fair traded and sustainable products. People are looking at the true cost of their purchases, and using their money to try to make a difference for the future. Is it any wonder that the antiques industry wants to remind people that the first “environmentally friendly” business on their main street probably sold antiques?

Antiques are, by basic definition, a prime example of recycling. Pieces of furniture, housewares, even clothes, get used by more than one person (or family) over a period of hundreds of years. Each time the item changes ownership, it is used again and often for its original purpose. Use naturally causes wear and tear, but unlike many new purchases, antiques are lovingly restored and repaired. If the 150 year old dining chair develops a loose leg, you don’t throw it out. You take it to an antiques specialist who can repair the chair, or you repair it yourself. Just because something is old, or in need of TLC, is no reason to add it to the growing landfills. In fact, the thrifty nature of antique ownership is something many look at with pride. We reduce the cycle of consuming and disposing by holding on to our items for so long. If it’s special enough, we might even leave the items in our will so future generations can enjoy them!

Of course, not all antiques make the journey through time intact. Some are no longer useful in their original form, and this is where repurposing (or reusing) antiques is a great idea. Remember when you were learning about the three “R”s in school, they showed you how to reuse a milk carton to make a bird feeder? Well, many industrious antique dealers and enthusiasts do this all the time. They take reclaimed hardwood from a destroyed building, for instance, and construct a kitchen island. Or find an old door and attach legs to make a table. Reusing antiques can be a simple as repurposing Mason jars into vases! There is really an amazing assortment of ideas out there to give you inspiration. Many people find new and inventive ways to use old things. Because damaged or incomplete antiques are often a deal, you are sometimes only limited by your imagination.

Now, no argument is without its thoughtful critics. Some have questioned if antiques are really green as the travel to find and sell antiques causes its own carbon footprint. I think shows like “American Pickers” kind of illustrates the idea of travelling many miles to find an item and then schlepping it back – often burning lots of gas in the process. In my experience, however, the carbon footprint of the average “picker” is pretty small. In my family my parents drove about 10 hours to Quebec to find stock. My parents had a giant Bell truck and we would pack full to the roof before we turned around for home. My parents were very conscious of the added cost of travel to their business and each trip had to be efficient. Quebec was pretty much the farthest they travelled, and as the years passed they moved to more Ontario and locally sourced stock. They generally sell locally as well in their shop, or online through Collectivator where shipping through the mail is still an efficient use of resources. Antiques are a business that requires watching every penny and maximizing all returns. You don’t go for joyrides and burn gas for no reason. I think if you compare the journey of an antique to the huge, world spanning travel of millions of “flat pack” new items you will find that antiques are still the environmental choice. Especially if you consider that once that antique does find its new owner, its life expectancy is often much longer than poorly made new alternatives.

In the end, I think antiques are really an embodiment of all three “R”s. They reduce the need to purchase new items by being built to last for many years. They can be reused in new and creative ways when their original purpose is over, taking advantage of their high quality materials. And they are recycled over and over again, providing utility, beauty and historical interest to each successive owner. Next time you need something new, be green and buy something old!

For more information on Antiques & the environment check out Antiques are Green by John Fiske, as well as the Antiques are Green campaign.

Why I Buy Antiques – Value for Money

A summer has come and gone, and now that the days are getting cooler it feels like the right time to start blogging again. Blogging in earnest. Blogging more than once a month.

I decided to ease into this whole communication thing by outlining some of the reasons I buy antiques – specifically why I think antiques are a good bang for your buck. I am speaking from the point of view of a new collector with limited funds. Although I grew up with antiques I do not consider myself an expert buyer. I usually ask a lot of questions, get advice from sources I trust, and (most importantly) go with what I love. I do not have a vast collection but my husband and I greatly enjoy the antiques we do have in our home. I think antiques are more accessible than sometimes believed, especially if you start small. There are many personally rewarding aspects to buying antiques, but with a bit of knowledge buying antiques can also be a great way to stretch (and invest) a dollar.

One of the best financial reasons to buy a quality antique is that antiques are durable. For the most part even the most expensive, newly made items will still come up short in comparison to the craftsmanship and quality of materials found in antiques. Of course there are plenty of delicate antiques not suitable for regular use, but there are many that can grace your home and still be useful. Solid wood furniture, pottery, glass, textiles and even plastic were all made of higher quality in the past, and you can purchase antiques at a lower price than you might expect. Many of the antiques I use every day I bought for a comparable price or less than the same type of item new! Sometimes people see antiques as “used” but I like to remind them that if something lasted 100 years it will probably last 100 more. Can you say that about anything made out of particle board? You won’t regret buying quality.

Another great reason to compliment your home with antiques is that they offer trend-proof decorative impact. If you look through the home decor magazines you will often notice a creative mix of antiques, vintage and new pieces in a room. Some antiques are repurposed for modern living, like light fixtures, fireplace mantles and bathroom vanities. Other fine antiques are stand out pieces that compliment any decor. The playful balance between old and new adds interest to a home as well as personality. Countertops and paint colours may change, but a timeless antique will find a place in your home no matter what the style of the day.

Along those same lines, remember that antiques are the financial investment you enjoy. You can play the stock market, or invest in gold, or keep money in a savings account. But can you hang any of those investments on your wall? Can those investments become part of your home and family life? Aesthetic beauty is very important and people who buy antiques love living with them. Antiques are a way to hold some money in an object that benefits your life and your pocket. If the time comes to liquidate you may be able sell your antique and recoup the money (or make a profit). You can have your cake and eat it too!

So if antiques are high quality, beautiful and usable objects, are they a sure-fire good investment? Well, that’s the million dollar question. The truth is antiques are thought of as a speculative investment, best taken with a long-term approach. The value you get out of an antique is also usually proportional to the price you paid – higher quality means better return. Unlike what some of the TV shows imply, it is unlikely you will buy very low and sell extremely high. Antique values can fluctuate over time, due to factors like trends in the market (supply and demand), as well as the context in which you bought the antique. Try to avoid the red-hot styles of the moment, as these pieces will be selling at a premium. Conversely, if you can anticipate a future interest you may be able to make a good profit by waiting until markets change.

The best advice when buying an antique is to buy what you love at the best quality and condition you can afford. Buy your antiques from a reputable dealer (we have many on Collectivator), and know the basics about what you are buying. Never be shy about asking questions. Many dealers and other collectors are happy to share both historical context and practical knowledge (cleaning, repairs etc) about the antiques that interest you. The understanding about what you buy, after all, is a huge part of enjoying antiques in general. Start small and don’t worry that you’re not an expert. If you find a particular style or type of antique to your liking, start building a collection. As you develop your collection you will naturally learn and that will in turn make you a better buyer and smarter investor.

Finally, remember that no matter what you can spend, or choose to buy, antiques are a finite commodity. They aren’t making any more of them! If you buy quality and beauty, that object will always be in demand and that is a smart financial decision.

For more on buying antiques as financial investments, try these links:

Antiques as Investments by John Fiske and Lisa Freeman

5 Age-Old Tips for Investing in Antiques by Jean Chatzky

Vintage Mounties

Mountie Collection

A few of the vintage Mounties in my collection

As a Canadian, not to mention a general fan of square-jawed, stoic men in uniform, I’ve always been fond of the classic RCMP officer. Red coats, Stetson hats, a hair cut you can set your watch to, and a noble steed to ride. The classic RCMP  (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) or “Mountie” has it all. The Mountie is an icon of Canadian culture. When you say “Canadian” in other parts of the world, the Mountie is probably an image that comes to mind (maybe along with a hockey player, snow and the general idea of trees). He might be a cliché and not at all representative of the diverse people who comprise the modern RCMP force, but the image endures thanks in large part to the plethora of items made in his image. Some of these items are souvenirs and some are advertising to capitalize on a Canadian association with certain products. As a kid, for instance, I remember being in France and seeing Canada Dry commercials featuring a friendly, fully uniformed Mountie sitting in a bar pushing ginger ale. It was silly, but darned if it didn’t make me feel patriotic.

Since the RCMP formed in 1920, the image of the “Red Serge” or “Review Order” uniformed Mountie became so popular it actually became a problem. By 1995 there were so many shoddy, illegal copies of  the RCMP image running rampant on everything from pro wrestlers to cartoons that they famously struck a deal with the Walt Disney corporation to help control their copyright. In 2000 the RCMP decided  not to renew their Disney contract, saying they now had enough knowledge and experience with commercial licensing to protect the image on their own. Today the RCMP sell their own lines of souvenirs with reproduction images.

While new RCMP merchandise is actually really nice, there’s nothing stopping you from collecting the real vintage stuff. By and large, because there was so much made with Mounties, you can pick and choose different types of objects to collect depending on your space and budget. Let’s take a look at some of my items to give you an idea:

Reliable Plastic Mountie

This handsome fellow makes sure the plants are well protected.

This is one of my plastic Mountie figures. These were made in Toronto, Canada by the Reliable Plastic Company. The Reliable Company made, well, pretty reliable toys and these figures have held up well over the years. They have varying degrees of ware and tear. Some of them still say “R.C.M.P Canada” on the base, but on mine the letters have worn off. The back of the base is stamped with the words “RELIABLE MADE IN CANADA”. They are 8″ tall, and sell for around $15 – $30 depending on condition. These figures were made between the 1950s and 1960s, and can be quite easily found today in antique shops and online.

The following two plaster figures are vintage advertisements for Drewrys beer featuring RCMP officers and real glass beer bottles. The Redwood brewery (not the Drewry brewery for reasons one can only assume had to do with alliteration), was founded in Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1877. The company also opened a brewery in South Bend, Indiana in the 1930s following the end of prohibition. By 1936 all actual beer production took place on US soil.

Even when the beer was made in the USA, the Mountie was still used to advertise Drewrys beer. The figures that feature the trio of a Mountie, horse and beer bottle are especially sought after by collectors. Most of these figures were made in the 1940s and sell for $100 – $200 dollars today. I bought both my Drewry Mounties at the same time from the same dealer, and made a deal for both. The first one is smaller and has a miniature glass bottle. The second figure (with horse) has a full size bottle and a flat back for easy mounting on a wall. It’s a great item for a kitchen or bar area.  The Drewry Mounties are a collectible that straddles two fairly large areas of collecting: RCMP and beer. For that reason they are a good investment for the money.

Drewrys Mountie #1Drewrys Mountie #2

Mountie Salt & Pepper shakers

Finally, I’d like to show off two little men who make salt and pepper a charming addition to any table. I don’t know what company made these salt and pepper shakers. I can guess that they are from the 1950s but I’m not sure. They have small chips and discolourations. These are not prize pieces but I like them and they probably cost less than $20.

My point is that even if you don’t pay much, or expect to recoup your investment, vintage RCMP pieces can add charm and interest to your home. Plus who can resist a man in uniform? I’ll show you more items from my vintage Mountie collection later. If you have any comments I’d love to hear them!

Oh, and remember that deal the RCMP made with Disney to stop fraudulent but perhaps hilarious use of their image? Thank goodness it didn’t take effect until after Monty Python gave us this:

 

Welcome

Hi there!

Welcome to my blog. This won’t be your standard “I’m going to blog every single day because I’m so excited about blogging” premiere blog post (followed, inevitably, by one week of daily posts and then a sharp demise into rarely ever posting). It’s too much pressure and frankly I don’t have any readers yet so why make any promises? Although my skills are a little rusty, I’ve been blogging on and off since 1998. That’s an eternity on the internet! As a blogger, I’m the equivalent of the old lady sitting in a rocker on her front porch. I blogged back when uploading images was a Kafka-esque nightmare of ftp servers and permission errors. I blogged when blogging was the only way to tell people what you thought because we didn’t have Facebook or Twitter. No son. No Facebook at all.

Sorry, where was I? Oh yes. Despite my elderly blogging stature I’m actually, so I tell myself, still young. I’m in my 30s, and I decided to start this particular blog to talk about my passion for collecting antiques and vintage items.  It’s a somewhat unusual passion for someone my age. People of my generation are supposed to go to Ikea and get a pine table with matching chairs, a particle wood bedroom set, and maybe a plate of those cheap but disturbingly tasty meatballs. It’s modern. It’s clean. It’s kind of boring.

Well, in all honesty I do have lots of modern furniture in my home and for certain uses new is simply better. It’s not about being a zealot, but about mixing the new with one of a kind antiques, funky vintage stuff, and the occasional piece of original art. I called my blog “The New Collector” because I am part of the new generation of antique collectors. I want to spread the word to others who might not see the value in “used furniture”, or who might want to try buying antiques but aren’t sure where to start. I want to show you that antiques can be fun, vintage can give your space personality, and spending your money on really interesting items that will actually appreciate in value is awesome!

At the Christie Antique Show

Me at the Christie Antique Show. No idea who that woman is beside me. Let’s assume another antiques enthusiast!

It is my hope that this blog will grow to encompass many aspects of antique collecting including how to buy, where to look, cleaning & refinishing techniques, the environmental benefits, and why antiques are a great financial investment. I would also love to highlight other young collectors, blogs and antiques related TV shows. I might even start making little videos and doing interviews. I’ve got big dreams for my blog and I am excited to get started. Thanks for stopping by and I hope you’ll visit again soon!